Characterizing Framing Agency in Design Team Discourse
2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings
Purpose. To make course-based, undergraduate design projects more manageable, instructors often reduce or remove the open-ended quality, which in turn limits opportunities for students to learn to frame design problems. Here we introduce and characterize the construct, framing agency, which involves taking up opportunities to make consequential decisions about design problems and how to proceed in learning and developing solutions. Methodology. We employed a multi-case study design, selecting
... design, selecting cases of student design teams across different sites and levels, all in undergraduate engineering courses. Teams were audio/video recorded during their design process. We adapted a functional linguistics tool  to identify markers of agency in students' design discourse, comparing and contrasting the cases to illuminate the nuances of framing agency. We also identified learning versus task-completion orientations. Results. All students exhibited agency in some form, but not all exhibited framing agency. Analysis suggests that framing agency, when exhibited, is commonly shared across collaborating designers and tentative in nature early in the design process. Students who exhibited framing agency tended to adopt a learning rather than taskcompletion orientation. Students who exhibited agency, but not framing agency, made decisions that foregrounded accuracy and efficiency at the expense of exploring tentative ideas, and tended to treat the problem as having a single right answer. Conclusions. We argue that how students negotiate design problem framing depends on whether or not they consider the design problem relevant and authentic, the belief that each member brings different and potentially useful information to the task, and the opportunity to iterate design ideas over time. Framing agency provides a lens for understanding the kinds of design learning experiences students need to direct their own learning and negotiate that learning with peers in design projects.